Lisa Rana has been re-elected to her fifth term as East Hampton Town Justice by the tiniest of margins, about 24 votes out of the over 6000 votes cast. The outcome became apparent on Tuesday, November 19, when the Suffolk County Board of Elections completed its count of the hundreds of absentee ballots it had received.
Rana, a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic town, is the only non-Democrat to have won in the town-wide general election held November 5. Her challenger, Andrew Strong, called her on November 19 to congratulate Rana on her victory.
“I feel such a sense of gratitude towards the voters of East Hampton,” Rana said on the phone the morning after she learned she had won the race. “In today’s world, where party politics are so prevalent, we still live in a community where voters are willing to take the time to get to know the candidates.”
In order to win, Rana needed a number of Democrats to split their vote. She is particularly thankful to those voters who made that difficult choice in the politically polarized world of 2019. “They are still willing to consider a candidate who isn’t on the same party line.”
A town justice in New York State serves a four-year term. East Hampton has two judges, whose terms expire in alternate odd years. Steven Tekulsky is the town’s other sitting justice. His term expires at the end of 2021.
The role of judge in a town is usually seen as an apolitical one. This year was the first time a sitting judge has been challenged by either party in East Hampton since 2011, when Rana beat Democrat Stephen Grossman.
The race for justice drew more voters than any of the other races in the town, it appears from the numbers tabulated on election day.
The first call Rana made after learning of her victory, she said, was to the court clerk’s office. The office had been on pins and needles since the election, given the uncertainty of the race. As the senior judge in East Hampton, she has been working closely with the clerks as the court adjusts to the radical changes in the criminal procedure law that take effect January 1. For example, the court has to return all bail money it has collected from defendants whose cases are still open as of December 31. The court is currently holding about $500,000 in bail, with almost all of that in small amounts, such as $100 or $200.
Strong made a strong showing in the race, despite having almost no experience in the town’s justice court. He is currently legal counsel to the East End branch of the Organizacion de Latino-Americana, and previously worked as an attorney at the International Justice Court in The Hague. The Independent could not immediately reach Strong for comment.
Rana said on Wednesday, November 20 that she believes the state legislature should consider lengthening a judge’s term to six years. The learning curve she experienced when first elected, and that Strong would have experienced if he had won, she said, is steep. “After four years, you are just getting your feet wet,” she said.
Rana had little time to celebrate: her Wednesday calendar for those accused of vehicle and traffic law infractions, such as speeding, numbered almost 100 cases.